Take Such A View Of Things
Philippians 3:15-21, 12-14
Key Verse 17
“Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.”
Look at what Paul was saying to the Philippians. “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (13-14) He is talking about the goal he had set his heart and life on reaching, which is to become more like Christ Jesus. Paul knows that he has not yet become fully Christ-like. But he does not give up nor does he look back on what is behind. Instead he always looks ahead, focusing his heart and mind on what God has promised that he would do for him, that is, to make him like Christ in every way. Paul didn’t waste time struggling with things past, but kept his eyes fixed on the goal— the prize as he calls it. Those who are not Christians cannot understand the greatness of such a commitment and resolution, because the goals they set are in this world and for this world alone. They cannot perceive how anyone would actually want to become like Christ Jesus. They rather want to become like those who are successful in this world, like those who have something to show for in life, something tangible, something that gives someone clout and authority to shine above others. But it’s different for the Christian soul. The Christian soul knows that gaining Christ and being found in him is the greatest gift a soul can have in this miserable and perishing world (2 Cor 9:15) . There is nothing more valuable to the Christian soul than Christ Jesus himself, and the love of Christ. And there is no better goal that a Christian soul pursues more than to grow in the likeness of Christ, and the ultimate prize that someday he or she will attain to the likeness of Christ in its fullness. That’s what Paul is talking about when he tells the Philippian Christians and us: “I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (13-14)
Paul then makes it very clear that the goal of become more Christ-like isn’t only for himself and for those who choose to be more Christ-like. In other words, when a person receives Christ as Lord and Savior and his soul is redeemed by the blood of Jesus from the grip of sin and hell, the Bible doesn’t give that person a choice whether to live in the world for the world, or to live in Christ and for Christ. The choice is made for that Christian who has been touched by the grace of the Lord Jesus to grow and mature in the image and likeness of the Lord Jesus. It’s an inherent desire of the Christian soul to mature to be more and more like Christ every day. The Christian who has no such desire is not a Christian at all. He is either resisting the conviction of the Holy Spirit to mature in the likeness of Christ, or his faith is superficial and bordering on unbelief. We must examine our hearts regularly in order to see what our hearts’ inmost desires are. If they are not to pursue maturity in the likeness of Christ Jesus, then we have strayed from the faith and have been ensnared by the world and its desires which are contrary to the desires of the Holy Spirit for us. Then it is time for us to plow our hearts through repentance and humble ourselves to the Spirit’s tug and pull. But when we have examined our hearts and have found that our inmost desire is to be like Christ Jesus, then we are well on the road to maturity. Examine your hearts, see how forgiving you usually are of others offenses against you, how tolerant of other’s abuse, how patient you are in the face of trails, how kind to those who do not deserve your kindness, how sacrificial you are in giving up your rights and privileges and comforts so that others may see Christ and live! Paul is clear that the Christian soul, regardless of circumstances must absolutely pursue maturity in Christ-likeness.
Read verse 15. “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” The Bible says that “All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Who are the mature? They are those who realize that to become more Christ-like one must not look back but earnestly pursue Christ-like maturity without fail. The mature Christian soul is that soul that deeply understands that maturity cannot be achieved overnight, but it must be pursued through the practice of Christian virtues in Christ. And even then it will not reach perfection until the day it is called heavenward in Christ and to Christ. Of course, there are those who believe that they are already mature, that they have already attained to Christ-likeness in every way. They have the habit of putting repentance aside and not struggling daily to grow. They make little spiritual progress in their lives. Others believe that no matter what we do in life we cannot possibly attain to Christ-likeness in this world because of our sinfulness. They have the habit of looking back at all the sins they have committed and despair. Still others think that life here on earth is forever, that there is always time for spiritual pursuits. They are the “I’ll do it tomorrow” Christians. This way they waste a lifetime doing nothing. Neither of these are mature in any way, but rather they are still infants in the faith or have no faith at all. But the mature, as Paul says “take such a view of things”. He meant that they know that we all ought to run the race together with him, pursuing Christ-likeness in every way possible. The mature have one thing on their mind. They want to be like their Lord in his humility, in his suffering, in his life, in his death, in his resurrection. Their goal is gain Christ and to be found in him. They have no greater goal in life.
As for those who think differently, Paul says to them: “God will make clear to you.” Who are those who think differently? How can they think differently when the Scriptures we have in our hands are the final authority! What Paul teaches is not up for debate. Its authority is from the Holy Spirit and the inspiration of God. It is not a philosophy to be contemplated. It is a truth to be believed, received and practiced. But Paul understands that sometime our own thinking as well as our own experiences conflict with the gospel message. They conflict not because the Scriptures or teaching is hard to understand or to believe or to obey, but they conflict because of our own sinfulness. So Paul hopes that as they mature, those who do not see things the way he does will come to understand and absorb these truths more readily. We should not think differently when it comes to the gospel and gospel faith, especially in matters of the new covenant we have in the Lord, the word that assures us that we who believe are being sanctified at this very moment, and are being made in the likeness of Christ, and that the day will come when our sanctification will be complete. The Bible tells us Christians that: “We… are being transformed into his likeness with ever increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) This truth gives us the heart to continue pursuing Christ-likeness and to run for the goal with Paul as we anticipate the prize we have been promised. We shouldn’t think differently. We shouldn’t think otherwise. But we should be daily transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:2) How do we do that? Read verse 16. “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.” We continue to live as Christians in this world, and strive toward Christian maturity. Wherever you are in your Christian life and level of maturity, continue in it, practice it, don’t look back, look ahead and keep your hope burning that from moment to moment you are being made in his image. Paul tells us that he himself has done that.
Read verse 17. “Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you.” Paul calls everyone in the church to imitate him just as Timothy and Epaphroditus were already doing. At the time, there was still no written record of the gospels nor of Jesus’ life and ministry and teaching. Paul’s life itself was the closest thing to what the gospel life was all about. In his life, the Lord Jesus manifested all the virtues of the Christian life, Christian love, Christian faith, and Christian hope. Paul himself lived according to one example or pattern and only one. It was the example and pattern of the gospel and of the new life we have in Christ Jesus. So Paul told the Philippian Christians to join other who were following his example and pattern of life. Epaphroditus had already loved them and served them as no other man has. As their pastor, he has risked his life to serve Christ’s purpose in their lives. Timothy had done the same. There was no man who had shown interest in their welfare as Timothy had. Paul was clear that such example are good examples of life to follow, since they had learned that pattern of living from himself, and had been practicing the Christian living for a while now. There is nothing wrong with imitating especially those who live according to the pattern given them through the gospel teaching. Children grow up imitating the patterns of their parents until they mature enough to discern and to judge things according to their own understanding. Likewise, Paul is asking us to imitate him as well as those who live by the gospel. We should imitate those who live lives that are patterned after the gospel of our Lord, especially those whose very lives are defined by the gospel of God’s grace and truth.
Why does Paul insist that the Philippians should join the host of Christians following his example, and to take note of those who live according to the pattern he had given them? He gives us the answer in verse 18. Read it. “For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.” Paul was distraught because there were a horde of false teachers scattering false teachings that corrupt the gospel and its message. In Paul’s time, there were mainly Judaizers, Gnostics and Liberals who thoroughly poisoned people’s minds and corrupted the gospel message to the detriment of their hearers. The only way to protect oneself from the errors of false teachings is to (1) know the truth, to (2) embrace the truth, and (3) to practice or live the truth found in the gospel in your life. Those who know and embrace the truth but do not practice the truth become the hypocrites of the church who know the truth but who do not practice it. Eventually, they are also spreading a false teaching regarding the gospel, a false teaching that the practice of the Christian life is of no consequence. These are all enemies of the cross of Jesus.
But those who know the truth, embrace the truth and practice or live by the truth are those who love Christ Jesus and their goal is to become Christ-like. They love the cross more than anything else in life, even more than life itself. As Jesus taught us, those who love him deny themselves, pick up their cross and follow him. They are ready to lose their life for him and for the gospel. How many people talk about Christian faith but avoid the cross every moment! How many hate the gospel way of life and what it represents or even don’t give it much thought at all in their daily lives! Enemies of the cross are those who promote and live a life that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus who clearly taught us what the life in the cross is all about. We endure. We forgive. We don’t pursue our own happiness at the cost of other’s misery even when we are suffering much. We don’t justify our godless behavior to appease our guilty conscience and to silence the convictions of the Holy Spirit. We don’t antagonize others. We don’t throw out a life time of teaching and conviction to satisfy our physical passions. We live for him and suffer for him and with him for the wrongs done in this world. We rejoice at the good and lament the evil. We sacrifice even ourselves to the good of others. We don’t betray the Christian family because another family offers us more benefits. We don’t give up. We give in. We love. We strive to make the cross of Jesus the model of our living. This way we can, as much as we are able to, be ambassadors of him who loved us and gave himself for us on the cross. Enemies of the cross have no love except for themselves and for the things that benefit them. But you’re not an enemy of the cross if you embrace the cross and strive to be Christ-like.
Who is an enemy of the cross? Read verse 19. “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.” Mostly the enemies of the cross are those who (1) live by their appetites, (2) who’s glory is in their shame and (3) who’s minds are set on earthly things. The Judaizers emphasized not the cross but circumcision, that is, the glory of the flesh and human effort. The Gnostics emphasized the superiority of mystic knowledge in the pursuit of God. The Liberals emphasized immoral and free style Christian living. They gave in to their bodily desires, and to materialism. They gloried in the very things that the Bible describes as shameful and defiled and defied the cross. The Bible tells us: “Do not love the world or anything in the world.” (1 John 2:15) The Lord Jesus himself tells us that a believer hates his life for the love of the cross. (Luke 14:26-27) But many defy these teachings and find ways around them. They adopt the Christian title and corrupt those whose hearts and minds are weak. There is no sympathy for those whose hearts and minds are weak. To strengthen your mind and heart you have to exercise them. You have to go to the source of nourishment. You have to read the Bible and reflect on it. You have to pray regularly. You have you ask the Holy Spirit to impress these truths upon your heart. You have to stop relying on your reasoning and rely more on your faith to understand spiritual things— with the faculty which God has instilled in your heart to interpret and understand spiritual things— which is faith. You understand spiritual things with faith not with human reasoning. I cannot understand chemistry or biology with my faith. I understand them with my mind. So why would I try to understand spiritual things with my mind? I cannot, unless I love myself more than the cross! Paul once told Timothy: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2.7) What a glorious promise to understand the Bible in its fullness. What foolishness will not heed such good counsel! Paul warned against those who live as enemies of the cross. He warned against those who would corrupt the gospel to their own benefit. He warned against having our minds fixed on earthly things. But if we reflect on what Paul’s words say, we will not unintentionally live as enemies of the cross, but will live by the cross, the pattern given to us in the gospel.
Read verses 20-21. “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Paul contrasts for us those whose minds are on earthly things and the Christian mindset that loves the cross and lives by the gospel teaching. He tells us that our citizenship is in heaven. This truth helps us see many things as they really are. We are a people without a country or nationality, nor a people with a place for any nationalistic arrogance. But we are not without citizenship. Our kingdom is elsewhere, where our king is. Before Jesus came to this world, the truth about the kingdom of heaven was a little vague. It was promised and modeled through the nation of Israel. But Israel didn’t model the kingdom well because the problem of sin had not yet been solved. But when the king came, he himself Jesus, described for us the kingdom well. And now we see that our citizenship is not in this world at all. Rather we are citizens of God’s kingdom. According to the word of God (Col 1.14) we have already been transferred there. We are now in that kingdom. We have to believe this from our hearts if we are to live as citizens of the kingdom. This also tells us where our allegiance should be. Our primary allegiance is to our king Jesus and his kingdom. And what do we do as citizens of this kingdom? It tells us who we are fighting for and what is our objective. We fight for our King and for his kingdom. We honor our Lord who was crucified. His cross is our joy. Everything related to our king is our joy. And besides honoring the cross we wait for our king’s return until he comes to take us to be with him forever in his kingdom and glory. Only then will our perfection in Christ-likeness be completed at the resurrection of the dead. Paul wants us to “take such view of things” so let us do so and pray for maturity as we embrace and practice the life of the cross in our daily lives. Amen.